Tag Archives: Wembley

Martin, Martin, give us a wave!

Last week’s international break has brought about jubilant scenes on the streets of Cairo, Reykjavík and Panama City. In stark contrast, as Harry Kane sealed England’s World Cup qualification, large swathes of the Wembley crowd were already on their way home, trying to beat the rush for the tube.

It’s all a far cry from Beckham against Greece. After their routine qualification, made up of insipid performances which failed to banish the memories of THAT defeat to Iceland, I have fallen out of love with the England football team.

However, I enjoyed watching Wales take on the Republic of Ireland in a winner takes all match in Cardiff on Monday. It looked to be an incredibly even contest with perhaps home territory giving the Welsh an advantage. Not a bit of it. As a Wycombe Wanderers fan of a certain age, I knew that there was only ever going to be one winner in this game, and that was Martin O’Neill’s Ireland.

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With a team made up of solid professionals without a superstar amongst them, Ireland negotiated a tricky group to secure a second place play-off spot. In doing so, they were unbeaten on the road. Their magnificent team spirit, coupled with O’Neill’s tactical nous and big match mentality, was there for all to see in Cardiff.

Now, I’ve been known to be partial to a pint of Guinness, but even Andy Townsend is significantly more Irish than me. Nonetheless, I was rooting for the Republic. I have never met Martin O’Neill, but I can safely say that as a result of his magical spell at Adams Park, I would run through a brick wall for him. I’d probably even wash his car every Sunday if he asked me to.

I may well have my nostalgic blue quartered glasses firmly on, but has anyone else contemplated what it would be like to have Martin O’Neill as manager of England?

I think he would be the perfect fit. Throughout his managerial career, O’Neill has seen his teams consistently achieve more than their individual constituent parts would have you believe was possible.

There has been plenty of talk in the media about England not having enough quality players to go far in a major tournament. I have to disagree. Denmark and Greece have both won major tournaments, whilst Leicester City stormed their way to the Premier League title. With belief, a little bit of luck and tactics to suit the players you have at your disposal, the sky is the limit.

Former Chairboy, Keith Scott, who was plucked from the depths of non-league by O’Neill before going onto play in the top flight agrees: “The gaffer had the ability to make individuals and the team believe that the impossible was possible.”

Gareth Southgate has the impossible job. He seems like a nice guy and had a fine and distinguished playing career, but since hanging up his boots, Southgate’s record as a manager has been underwhelming. I truly hope he can prove the doubters wrong and lead England to the latter stages of the World Cup in Russia.

Meanwhile, Ireland will have a tricky play off to contend with before booking any flights, but no one will fancy playing them. As Martin O’Neill said this week: “I have always feared teams, it’s the best way to be. And then we go out and beat them.”

Mine’s a Guinness.

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EFL Fans Forum

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Last Monday was the second EFL Fans Forum of the season. It took place at the shiny headquarters of Sky in Osterley and covered a range of subjects, forming part of the EFL’s commitment to engage with supporters across the three divisions.
Former referee and PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) Head Of Community & Engagement, Chris Foy, was very much the star of the show. His interactive presentation set out to change our perception of match officials whilst also explaining some of the recent changes to the laws of the game. It was insightful, entertaining and above all else provided the audience with a great deal of understanding and empathy for match officials. Chris is a credit to football with his natural enthusiasm, love of the game and self deprecating turn of phrase instantly winning over the audience. We also learnt that at the start of the season, each Championship club invested £50,000 to enable Select Group 2 referees to become contracted. This money has been used to help officials in all areas of training including reviewing decisions, psychology and fitness. One can only hope that this sort of thing can trickle down to L1 and L2.
Next was the Sky Sports’ Head Of Football, Gary Hughes. He explained the minimum five week commitment between the broadcaster and the EFL in announcing live television fixtures. This commitment was announced at the start of the 2016/17 season to help give clubs and their fans as much notice as possible ahead of any matches selected for live television coverage. Gary also spoke about his opinion that more access behind the scenes is the key to pushing football coverage forward, but that there is still a large amount of resistance to this from the club managers who want the dressing rooms to remain very much their own private domains. Scott Minto, one of the anchors of Sky Sports’ EFL coverage was also on hand and offered his opinion as a former player throughout the evening’s topics.
We also heard from Paul Snellgrove, the EFL Competitions Manager, who has the unenviable task of putting together the fixture list. Paul went through the process of how games are scheduled, with the main driver being to maximise attendances. He explained that clubs often request that big local games take place on a Saturday so they can take advantage of the bigger crowds and generate more revenue. The flip side of this is the odd game on a Tuesday night being an arduous trip for teams and fans where a low attendance on a Saturday would also have been likely. All the clubs and the police are consulted before the list gets published in June and then the vagaries of cup replays and the weather come into play. It really is a monumental balancing act and I’m sure that Paul has pretty thick skin by now as it is an impossibility to keep everyone happy all of the time! The Q&A at the end of the session was largely taken up by fans asking why Paul thought it was a good idea that their own team had to travel to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night, despite his explanations a matter of minutes before.
On the whole, it was an informative evening with everyone getting an insight into the workings of the EFL and Sky Sports, although the location and start time meant that the attendance could have been higher. It was a nice opportunity to meet and chat with fans of other clubs and it was a Luton Town supporter who hijacked the end of the meeting to deliver his heartfelt best wishes to the Leyton Orient fans who had travelled from East London with the future of their club still in the balance. He spoke for us all.
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It’s magic, you know…

The magic moment that I’ve been patiently waiting for since the 1990s. I’d been predicting that this draw would happen to anyone who would listen to me over the last couple of months, and I admit that I’d imagined it actually taking place in the third round of the FA Cup. To see it pop out as the first two balls of the fourth round draw was surreal to say the least, and to think of some of the hugely unsavoury things that I’ve sung and shouted at Martin Keown down the years… You see, I’m one of those despicable people that support two football teams. Wycombe Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur.

I come from a long line of Tottenham fans, my Nan was born and bred a goal kick away from White Hart Lane, whilst my other Grandparents lived up the road in Edmonton. One of my early memories is playing football in the back garden there and being able to hear the crowds at Spurs, the perfect back drop to my attempts to plant the plastic football in the bottom corner of the washing line post that played the part of the goal. My Dad has told me all about his regular outings to the Lane to watch Bill Nicholson’s double winners and it was his love of the game that took me and my brother to our first ever live match in January 1987, Wycombe Wanderers v Bromley in the Isthmian League. We had moved to High Wycombe a couple of years before and I remember wandering up to Loakes Park, wondering why that part of town always smelt of chocolate. The game was a tempestuous affair which The Chairboys won easily, with Bromley having a player sent off. The sights, the smells and the swearing ensured that I was hooked, whilst watching Declan Link whip corners in was a thing of beauty to my young eyes.

The next few seasons really were a golden age for the beautiful game for me. Later that year, I got an early dose of galling disappointment when Spurs somehow lost to Coventry City in the FA Cup final, a superb diving header from Keith Houchen breaking my heart. I carried that disappointment around with me until January 1989, when I was delighted by lowly Sutton United unceremoniously dumping the Sky Blues out of the third round. This, coupled with Wimbledon winning the cup in 1988 guaranteed that I fully understood the magic of the greatest club competition in the world.

After the thrillingly brilliant Italia 90 World Cup, it was all about Gazza and I was taken to see Spurs play for the first time, an away game at Loftus Road where they drew 0-0 with QPR. On leaving High Wycombe that day, I’d been cruelly informed that Gascoigne was injured and wouldn’t be playing, so I sat in silence the whole way down the A40, already acutely aware that an afternoon of observing Steve Sedgley lumber around the midfield wasn’t going to be great. The joke was on me as Gazza shone in a tight game with the cauldron like atmosphere of Loftus Road ensuring that I’d extended my vocabulary too.

I was by now a complete football obsessive, getting my fix from televised games, Sports Night and Match Of The Day, whilst tracking the Wanderers in the pages of Midweek and The Bucks Free Press. Take it away Barry Davies…

“Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is you know. OHHH I SAY…”  It’s still one of my favourite commentary moments ever. Whenever I hear it, I’m transported back home  dancing around the living room. Perfection.

I didn’t have to wait long to experience the FA Cup in the flesh either. Queuing up in the rain with my Dad outside the new home of The Chairboys to secure tickets for the second round clash against West Bromwich Albion. We were not to be disappointed… (WARNING – this video contains some awful ‘say what you see’ style punditry)

Next up, I got a paper round and some disposable income which was largely spent on season tickets to get me into Adams Park at every opportunity. Wycombe Wanderers became the focus for six wonderful years until I went to university in London and started to go and watch Tottenham and experience the dizzy heights of the Premier League.

2000/2001 really did set the bar high for FA Cup magic. Wycombe Wanderers and Tottenham both marching to the semi-finals, only to avoid each other and both get knocked out (yet more heartbreak!) The Chairboys run was simply magnificent though, and the fifth round replay against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park is one of the best games I have ever been to for pure drama. Over to you Alan Parry…

I wasn’t at Filbert Street as I had to work, so I listened to the game on the radio. I just couldn’t believe it when Roy Essandoh scored, mainly because I’d seen him make his debut for Wycombe the week before and I had decided that he made Trevor Aylott look like Roberto Baggio by comparison. A free agent, signed after the club put a plea out on teletext for a striker who wasn’t cup tied, he scored only one goal that season and it knocked high flying Premier League Leicester City out of the cup. Unbelievable.

Since then, there has been very little for me to speak of in terms of romance in the FA Cup. I remember getting up in the middle of the night in Beijing to watch Tottenham get beaten by Portsmouth, another semi-final defeat. Another low point was the then non league Fleetwood Town brushing Wycombe aside 2-0, despite having a man sent off in the first half. I was away in Albania and 5Live had the game as their main commentary match and I’ll never forget Mark Lawrenson summing up the performance.

“This is the worst display from a Football League side in the FA Cup that I have ever seen.” 

Ouch. The magic can go both ways.

Last season, Wycombe took Aston Villa to a replay before bowing out in the third round. This was a great achievement, but with Villa going through a horrendous season it lacked the sparkle of previous cup endeavours.

Since falling into commentating a few years ago, Wycombe Wanderers have provided me with a real rollercoaster ride to describe. From survival at Torquay to losing on penalties in the play off final at Wembley, I’ve loved every single minute of it. With White Hart Lane being demolished at the end of this season, I knew that the FA Cup with Wycombe  was my only realistic shot of being able to commentate on a game there. Somehow, I just knew it would happen.

Thirty years have passed since my first ever game at Loakes Park and I’m delighted that both my dad and brother will also be at White Hart Lane to see our two teams walk out side by side. I just I hope I can hold it together on the commentary…

gazbelieve

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Wembley preview

We are nearly there! Ever since the final whistle blew at Adams Park to bring the play off semi-finals to a close, the clocks have been pretty much at a standstill. It has been wonderful though to see the online forums/pages buzzing with positive messages, ticket updates and reminisces of Wembley trips gone by. Whatever happens at the home of football, it will bring the curtain down on a wonderful season for Wycombe Wanderers. Be loud and proud and enjoy the game!

I supplied a column in the programme for the Plymouth home leg, attempting to sum up the season. Here is the text…

I probably class myself as both a romantic and an optimist, pretty hopeless on both fronts too. I was struck by both these emotions whilst on the platform at Canons Park tube station last August. With the Summer sun having long dried those joyous tears from Torquay, I found myself enjoying the view of Barnet’s brave new world of The Hive being overlooked by the behemoth corporate arch of Wembley. A new look Wycombe Wanderers had just completed a routine pre season schedule with a narrow win over The Bees, but could they be finishing their season at the home of football on the right? Even for me it seemed unlikely, what with the budget and size of the squad being tiny on both fronts. Yet here we are, just ninety minutes from Wembley and what a season it has been! 

The play offs went from being an unlikely fairy tale to a potential unnecessary nuisance by Christmas, as The Chairboys enjoyed a magnificent start to the season and rode their luck with injuries to the top of the table. Suspensions and injuries cruelly arrived right near the end of the campaign, which coupled with a magnificent late surge from big spending Bury, presented the Wanderers with a ticket to the play off lottery. However, a club record of eighty-four points in the Football League whilst being the second highest scorers in the division with the best away record in the entire country… Not bad for a little club that was on the brink of disappearing all together just twelve months previously.  
At times, it’s been difficult to remember that the club is on a two year plan and operating on a sticky financial wicket. The January sales of Josh Scowen and Paris Cowan-Hall probably cost the club their automatic promotion place, but the money received has helped secure the entire clubs future for the coming seasons with Wasps buzzing off to Coventry. Most importantly, there is a vibrant energy about the club again, tapping into the spirits of past cup glory and the legacy of the Lord Martin O’Neill himself. Gareth Ainsworth has pulled the club together, the players and fans are as one and the results have seen the attendances starting to creep up too. Whatever happens tonight against Plymouth or even at Wembley, the strides made this season have been wonderful to witness and report on. 
I can’t believe I’ve completed my second season in the commentary box too. There have been some great moments along the way. Highlights include; club media man Matt Cecil being chastised live on BBC Oxford for dancing in the press box at the Kassam Stadium, the realisation that Keith Scott is Bobby Davro’s stunt double and Bill Turnbull causing heart attacks across the world by shouting ‘GOAL for Wimbledon’ at the precise moment we were knocked off air as the referee disallowed it. 
A massive thank you to –  Bill Turnbull, Will Vince, Scotty, Matt Cecil, Keith Cummings and the sports team at BBC Three Counties. Most importantly, thank you to all the fans who have been listening and tweeting/texting in, it keeps us all going in those cold faraway press boxes. 
Have a great Summer and enjoy the game. 
COYB!
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Also, BBC Online asked me to try and sum up the massive turnaround of the club in the last twelve months. Arise Sir Gareth…
Just over twelve months ago, Wycombe Wanderers were the width of a cross bar from losing their Football League status. Had results not gone their way, it was a distinct possibility that the Chairboys could have disappeared altogether. Now the boos have been turned in to jubilant Wembley bound cheers and the good old days are returning once again to Adams Park. 
The catalyst for this is the manager Gareth Ainsworth. Many things were stacked against him last season. He inherited a disjointed squad and with no funds it was tough to turn things around, especially as he was still finding his feet in his first full season in charge. It would have been all too easy to blame everything else for Wycombe’s woes but Gareth is made of sterner stuff than that. He came back in pre season with a new outlook and determination but still with no budget, so he changed everything that he possibly could. The dugouts were swapped with the home one reverting to the bench preferred by Martin O’Neill, match day attire for the players was suits and the pitch dimensions became smaller. On the pitch, Gareth cleared out fourteen of the players that nearly took the Chairboys down and only bought eight in. One of the wages for a player was sacrificed to allow a Head Of Sports Science to be appointed which was deemed a big risk but it has certainly paid off with only twenty-two players being used throughout the whole season. 
The calibre of the players joining the club were excellent too. They had to be the right character as well as being able to deliver on the pitch. Every time I interviewed a new signing, without exception and with no prompting from me, Ainsworth was credited as a big reason for joining the club. Capturing proven quality players like Paul Hayes, Joe Jacobson and Peter Murphy was no mean feat last summer following the previous season. Youth has been given a chance too, with Aaron Pierre and Alfie Mawson especially, more than taking their opportunities to shine. 
From back to front the team play in the spirit of their manager and that is why Wycombe Wanderers have turned things around so quickly. Team spirit, unity with the fans and a never say die attitude. Gareth Ainsworth has got the place rocking again.
In a week where the club have been enjoying increased media attention I spoke to Gareth Ainsworth ahead of the trip to the home of football…
Mobile & tablet version here
I also spoke with Nico Yennaris and Hogan Ephraim…
Mobile & tablet version here
Mobile & tablet version here
The other week, before the decisive final league game of the season, I spoke with my good friend and fellow journalist, Brian Jeeves, who is a Southend United fan and reporter. Seeing as the Shrimpers are the team standing between Wycombe Wanderers and League One, I thought it would be rude to not gauge his thoughts again…
Mobile & tablet version here
So, it’s all set to be a tremendous day. If you are coming to the game, come and say hello on Wembley Way as I’ll be there at the BBC Three Counties outside broadcast bus with Scotty.
We’ll also be providing full match commentary, including build up and post match reactions, across all BBC3CR frequencies and Chairboys Player.
For the final time this season… Enjoy the game.
COYB!
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